One Year and Counting

Well, the one-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis came and went last week with little hullaballoo. Part of me was braced for an emotional tidal wave that never manifested. As it turned out, January 29th, 2010, was just another day. And, more than anything, I felt/feel lucky. Lucky that I’m on the other side of cancer (knock wood). Lucky that mine was the type that could be sliced out—I have a good friend with lymph cancer who will never have the luxury of another cancer-free day. Lucky that I’m back to worrying about the little stuff, like freelance work. Lucky that I get to move on with my life. Speaking of moving on, friends sometimes ask me what nuts-and-bolts lifestyle changes I made in the past 12 months, so I thought I’d make a little list. Of course, this is not meant to be health advice, I’m just offering a little window into what I did after my cancer diagnosis (aside from freak the hell out). So, here it goes:

  • Stopped drinking Diet Coke
  • Started drinking green tea
  • Started juicing in the mornings
  • Stopped eating sugar, wheat, soy and dairy
  • Went vegan at home
  • Traded anti-perspirant for natural deodorant (yeah, it sucks)
  • Got serious about buying only paraben-free soaps and shampoos
  • Bought chemical-free laundry detergent and dryer sheets
  • Traded soy milk for rice milk (I’ve eased up on the soy)
  • Reduced my use of canned beans
  • Replaced most of the tupperware in my kitchen with glass containers
  • Cut back on wine
  • Yoga, yoga and more yoga

None of these rules are written in stone. In fact, they fluctuate depending on the day. But, more days than not, I follow them, and my plan is to keep it up for a long, long time. I’m not naive. It would be silly to think any one of the actions above might ward off cancer. But it would be equally foolish to stick my head in the sand. I figure that the least I can do is to cut back on the number of cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting substances I invite into my home and body. After that it’s anyone’s game. This time around, maybe I’ll get lucky.

No ordinary lump

This was no ordinary lump. I know ordinary. Ordinary is the lump I have in my right breast. I found it ten years ago. It too was examined but found to be a fibroadenoma. Harmless. Oval. Slippery. Rubbery. Almost friendly.  The old lump is everything the new lump is not. The new lump is hard. Ragged. Fixed in place. The new lump feels like a shard of glass under the skin. Like a piece of emotional shrapnel that exploded out of my heart and slowly worked its way to the surface.

The doctors tell me it’s been there for eight to ten years. I try not to think about it but I do. What was I doing on that day ten years ago when the first cell went awry? Was I stressed? Did I have an argument with my father? Did I eat a pesticide-laden salad? Drink contaminated water? Breathe too much exhaust? I can’t help but wonder what weakness in my body invited this anomaly.

Ten years ago I was 28 years old. That’s the year I met Mary, quit my job, started freelancing. That’s the year I started feeling like I might know what I wanted in life. But, around that same time, something hatched.

When I think of the tumor, my mind sometimes wanders to the sacks of spider eggs in our basement. We have a basement typical of the Midwest–draped with gooey, wispy webs. Marking the center of each is a sack of eggs. Inside each sack are hundreds of baby spiders. I beg Mary to vacuum them up before they hatch, but she doesn’t want to. Who can blame her?

When I found out my tumor was invasive, I pictured one of those sacks. Ever growing. Pulsating with the life inside. At what point did the sack split open and the first miniature spiders march out? No doubt they sought light, air, food, new environs to set up their spider shops. Is my tumor the same way?

For ten years it’s been growing, hidden beyond the reach of my inquisitive fingers. Then, one day, a seam opened up and tumor cells went on the march. Each offspring seeking it’s own little corner of my body to set up housekeeping. How far have my spider babies traveled? What is their final destination? How can I get rid of them? It won’t be as easy as vacuuming. Of that I am sure.

First, An Apology

Before I dive into this, I need to clear the air. A confession: I’m guilty of blog bashing. I’ve been known to call blogging a stoopid waste of time, a self-indulgent navel-gazing activity. I’ve openly wondered why people—especially freelance writers—toil at their computers for gratis when they could be off doing something more pleasurable, like chewing glass. But cancer has shown me the light, and I’m sure it won’t be the first time.

Soon after my diagnosis (exactly two weeks ago today), I realized I couldn’t not write about it. Each morning I’d awaken to find a tidal wave of images and words had flooded my brain while I’d slept. Sloshing around in rubber boots, I’d gaze at the debris wondering where it came from. Last night’s sky didn’t look like rain. But then I’d  shrug and get to work sweeping the detritus into a tidy pile of strung-together sentences. Soon, I’d awaken with a fully written essay knocking around in my frontal lobe.

Of course, I have a lovely journal for such occasions, but then there is the desire of friends and family to keep abreast (so to speak) of my breast without being intrusive. (Thank you.) Couple that with my tendency to get tongue-tied the minute the phone rings, and you can see why I’m here. So, to quote Mr. Dreamy (Obama), I’m offering an apology to bloggers everywhere—I’m sorry. I screwed up. I made a mistake. Mea culpa.